Your restaurant floor plan is already in place, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to improve it. Some are quick fixes while others require a heftier investment of time or money.
You need to know what your options are before deciding what to take on. And each change needs to take into account maximizing operational efficiency alongside customer satisfaction.
In this article, we’ll cover each component of a restaurant’s layout, sharing what you can do to make the most of your space. If you’re planning to open a new restaurant at a second location, we’ll also look at tools to make a new floor plan and tips for success.
Ideas to improve each element in your restaurant floor plan
If you’re considering updating your floor plan, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Take the square footage of your space, ensuring you have the latest measurements for any fixed furnishings you may have added. From there, it’s time to decide which elements you’ll include in your restaurant layout. How you arrange these elements heavily influences both quality and speed of service.
Here are a few ways to make the most of each core component of your restaurant floor plan.
Entrance and waiting area
As your customer’s first impression of your restaurant, it’s worth taking a second look at this one. Does anything here look dated? New artwork on the walls or a new coat of paint can immediately refresh this space.
If you’ve noticed you don’t have enough space during peak business hours, see how you can make your waiting area more open. Swap out individual chairs for more spacious benches. Remove extra furniture that’s not essential. A lamp could be replaced with overhead lighting. That cabinet holding decorative bric-a-brac could move to a corner of the dining room.
Freeing up floor space, even if you don’t add extra seating, creates a roomier feel.
Consider any other changes you’ve made that might affect who comes into your restaurant. For example, have you recently added third-party food delivery services? If so, you’ll need to rework the space to allow a clear path for people to get in and out quickly for pickup.
Kitchen and prep area
You know your kitchen floor plan should optimize service quality, safety and speed for back-of-house staff. But do you know if it’s doing that?
Interview your head chef to find out. Map the process for how orders move through cooking lines. Locate slow-downs and adjust your commercial kitchen style accordingly.
Next, consider how your menu might have changed over time. If you started off with a few dishes and had them prepared in assembly-line fashion, your kitchen design likely reflects that setup. But full-service restaurants with a more extensive menu should shift to a zone kitchen layout. Each zone is dedicated to a dish, such as a frying station or dessert station. Rearrange the movable appliances to better suit this style of preparation and cooking.
Your first priority with your dining space is efficient restaurant seating. It’s important to balance customer comfort, space for service and sales per square foot. Your service model and target aesthetic will also influence your layout strategy.
It’s time to grab a tape measure. At a minimum, commercial restaurant furniture manufacturers recommend there should be 18 inches of space between occupied chairs so customers can come and go easily. They also advise that you ensure there’s at least 24 inches between table corners for unimpeded service through the aisles.
Whether you need to maximize seating or up the coziness factor, there are plenty of fast, inexpensive ways to improve your floor plan and increase seating capacity. Consider table shape. Square tables are extremely space-efficient if your party size varies throughout the day. You can easily push tables together to accommodate a 12-top.
In contrast, round tables are great for meal-sharing concepts and give you more surface area to play with table settings and decor. They’re also convenient for solo diners without taking up unnecessary space.
Furniture style matters, too.
When choosing furniture, bear in mind how each piece fits with your proposed floor plan. A pedestal or trestle table doesn’t have the traditional four legs impeding where you can add chairs. Armless restaurant chairs give each guest more elbow room. Changing up even a few tables can add an entire “new” section to your restaurant.
You don’t have to take a one-size-fits-all approach to your layout. The lunch crowd may worry about privacy a little less than dinner guests. Rearrange tables or even remove a few to free up space for the dinner shift. If you have a bar, don’t forget to adjust seating to support groups getting before- or after-dinner drinks.
Comfort is key in the dining experience.
Sit in every seat in your restaurant to experience the dining room through your customers’ eyes. Survey it at different times of day to see how light and noise sources change.
If an area is too bright, get creative with decorative room dividers and window coverings. More seating doesn’t mean it has to feel cramped, either. Adding mirrors can create the illusion of space.
Finally, work in a little visual merchandising into your refreshed floor plan. When customers enter your dining room, where do their eyes go?
Thoughtful lighting, creative table tops or strategically placed curtains can redirect the eye to your wine selection or daily specials—and not the storage closet.
You need room for your front-of-house employees to run payments. Take a look at how much you’ve allotted for this area. Talk with staff and see what challenges, if any, they may have run into.
If the space for your wait station is limited, you can implement a mobile point-of-sale system (mPOS).
An mPOS allows your servers to provide personalized tableside service—taking orders, payment and tips—using tablets or smartphones. That means less running back-and-forth during the dinner rush.
If you’re opening a second location, consider placing your restrooms near your kitchen to save money by tying into the same plumbing and water lines. No matter where they’re located, your bathrooms should be sparkling clean.
They should feel separate from the dining room but still easily accessible.
Believe it or not, this can be a place for branding, too. Add some art, maybe a mural, to spruce up the walls. Bring in accents or small furnishings that communicate the atmosphere you want to create as a restaurant. This could be calming, upscale or even cheeky.
If your restaurant has a bar, you already know that it’s a handy spot for customer overflow from the waiting area. Take a look at this area and come up with a few words you’d use to describe the bar. This is often a focal point for the restaurant, so you want to consider what it says about your business. Fun? Welcoming? Edgy?
You can make small changes to upgrade your look without major renovations.
One idea is to upgrade your bar stools if you haven’t in a while. Make sure they match the rest of your restaurant’s style—metal bar stools give off a different feel than wooden stools. A back and foot rest on the stool will make it more comfortable, encouraging patrons to stay longer and order more.
Another way to refresh your bar scene is to add a few new beer lines. Craft beer is growing in popularity. Partnering with a nearby brewery may attract local customers who haven’t sampled your restaurant before. This is a great moment to check that your beer line system is organized, clean and out of the way.
Whether you’re looking at a new location or redesigning your current space, don’t underestimate the power of what’s outside your restaurant. It could be the thing that determines whether someone steps inside or not.
Optimize your outdoor space to attract passers-by.
If you have the room for outdoor seating but have never taken the opportunity to add it, take measurements to see what size tables you can accommodate.
Other small, cost-effective changes can make a big visual impact. Incorporate colorful plants into your landscape. Update the umbrellas over outdoor tables. Twinkling string lights can make the area seem festive after sunset.
Some changes can even draw in new customer segments. For example, adding water bowls or a pet-friendly sign can catch the eye of dog owners walking by.
Tools to create a restaurant floor plan
You can use software specially built to create your new floor plan and even build a 3D model to assess your new layout from every angle.
Using restaurant floor plan design software is relatively simple. First, enter your structure’s dimensions. Then use drag-and-drop features to add your structural elements, like walls, doors and windows. Arrange furniture, lighting and even wiring within your map.
SmartDraw, RoomSketcher and CAD Pro are popular options for do-it-yourself restaurateurs. Depending on the plan, costs range from $5.95 per month with SmartDraw to a $99.95 one-time payment for CAD Pro. A subscription or purchase usually includes floor plan templates to help you get started.
Not comfortable planning your own seating layout? There are professional restaurant design services available. Leverage your local business connections and ask for recommendations on interior design firms. It never hurts to have another pair of eyes.
Training your hosts to optimize restaurant seating
Efficient restaurant seating is more than assigning guests to tables. Your host is tasked with coordinating dozens of guests, requests and tables.
Above all, they have to seat diners in a way that makes sure everyone gets the best service. Make sure to train your hosts on the following practices.
- Rotate tables consistently. Parties must be seated as soon as possible, but your hosts have to account for workload, too. Double-seating causes stress for the server and may cause both tables to get sub-par service. Instead, train hosts to seat a party in one server’s section, then the next server’s section, and so on until every server has gotten one new table. Then the host can circle back and start over.
- Pay attention to party size. Along the same lines, instruct your hosts to evenly distribute parties to different servers’ sections based on party size. For example, if a server gets a 12 top, hosts should avoid seating that section for a rotation or two so the server can get up to speed. This way, customers get top-notch service during their stay.
- Track table status. Guests shouldn’t be left waiting while a host figures out when a table will be free. Have your hosts track table duration for each party. Hosts should perform regular walk-throughs of the restaurant (with someone watching the host stand) to see which tables have checks out and will be leaving soon. Wait times will also be more accurate.
- Stagger reservations. If you have issues with long wait times or slow service, another option is to set up reservations in waves. This allows your hosts to assign tables strategically, and lets your staff anticipate the flow of service. Stagger reservations by the hour, such as offering a 5:00 p.m. seating, a 5:30 p.m. seating, and so on.
Training your servers on a new floor plan
It will take some time for your front-of-house staff to get used to the new layout.
Offer adequate training for servers to make sure customer service doesn’t suffer during the transition.
For the most success, create a training plan and timeline. What does every server need to know? How soon will the new floor plan be completed? Will the servers’ sections change?
Pass out printed versions of the floor plan so your servers can study on their own. Tap your most veteran wait staff or even your restaurant manager to lead training. Once they’ve become comfortable with the layout, your servers can direct questions to them.
If you’ve made significant floor plan changes, do a few dry runs of service. Role-play as a guest in the different areas of your dining room. You’ll quickly discover where your front-of-house staff is running into issues.
Putting your plan into action
For any restaurant, fast casual to fine dining, a floor plan is an important starting place.
Although you want to get it right the first time, even the best restaurant floor plan only gets you so far. As your restaurant grows, you’ll find more ways to improve. Luckily, adjusting your setup is as simple as dragging and dropping with floor plan design software.
Want to see your restaurant floor plan in action before opening day? Right now, make a plan to launch a soft opening so your staff can practice and you catch any operational issues early.